When Things Go South

In the Northeast there are several unique regions, and local expressions that come from them, which I have come to understand and even appreciate. Every region of our great nation has it’s own idioms, but the Northeast seems to have more than it’s fair share. For instance, in the northern Adirondacks you will find the expression “higher than a woodpeckers nest” when it comes to the cost of expensive items or rising price of gas. In the foothills of these same mountains , where I currently live, the term “get on to it” is used when someone needs to start or complete any task.

Although there are numerous phrases I could site, the one that intrigued me the most over the years, which is well used across the entire northeast is, “gone south”. The use of this particular phrase in any conversation is never connected with a good thing. In fact when you hear it being spoken that is basically the final bell in a rather long and hard fought, but unsuccessful situation.

When a marriage has “gone south” it means the couple is headed for a divorce and the husband and wife have gone their own way. When a ball game has “gone south” for one team, it means there is no hope of them winning. If a friendship has “gone south” it speaks to the fact that it is not salvageable. If a trout stream or a lake has “gone south”, that means they are dead and there is no point in fishing them as there are no fish to be caught. In all this, what got my curiosity was where the expression came from. How did going south become a negative thing?

As I began to ask questions, none of those in my generation had a clue. However, when I began to speak to people in their 80’s and 90’s, something began to come to light. All of those who had a family history from the Northeast remembered their parents and grandparents using this phrase. However, those who had family lines that were not from the Northeast had picked it up, but didn’t remember any relative using the phrase, and that got my attention.

What I discovered was rather amazing. Those in their 80’s and 90’s had grandparents who were children during the Civil War, or they were the children of those who were children during the civil war. All of them used this phrase. This included my own father, his parents and his grandparents. In other words, those who had ancestors who were directly connected to the Civil War spoke of “going south” as a negative thing. When those dots finally connected, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head!

During the Civil War “going south” was considered an act of treason to the union of the United States. Soldiers and civilians who left the north and moved south of the Mason Dixon Line, became sworn enemies to their own families and friends. This was an irreconcilable breach of trust and all such relationships would most likely end in the shedding of blood. Thus “going south” had deadly, negative consequences that brought to an end all that was once good. Thus, this phrase was rooted in a painful historical reality that every northerner in the mid 1800’s knew oh so well.

As a minister, I have had a few relationships “go south” over the years. Those I trusted, those I believe in and those I gave a second (or third) chance to be restored, took all that was offered. They used me and the good people of our church as long as they could, and then left when they had to change, or it was no longer to their advantage to stick around. What I earned from this became vital to all I am and all I am doing today. The bottom line is simple, when things “go south”, some times it best to let them go!

Have you had a few things “go south” lately? People, jobs and friendships can all head that way in a moment, and at times this can actually be a blessing in disguise. When it’s time to move on, and we are hesitant to do so, God may often begin to move the things around us. In so doing we are forced out of our comfort zone and into a new place where we learn to depend totally on Him once again. That is, we begin to walk by faith and not by sight.

The point is, sometimes we all just need a good, hard push. If things are “going south” around you, don’t automatically assume it’s bad. Who knows, this could be your golden opportunity to step up and into a new place in life. Remember, He still causes ALL things to work together for the good, even your current place of discomfort and distress. Don’t despair. Put up your sail and let the south winds blow. You might like the port He finally brings you to!

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